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More on Tetanus

(Lockjaw & Tetanus Vaccination) (cont.)

How does the tetanus toxin cause damage to the body?

The tetanus toxin affects the interaction between the nerve and the muscle that it stimulates, specifically at the neuromuscular junction. The tetanus toxin amplifies the chemical signal from the nerve to the muscle, which causes the muscles to tighten up in a continuous ("tetanic" or "tonic") contraction or spasm. This results in either localized or generalized muscle spasms. Tetanus toxin can affect neonates to cause muscle spasms, inability to nurse, and seizures. This typically occurs within the first two weeks after birth and can be associated with poor sanitation methods in caring for the umbilical cord stump of the neonate. Of note, because of tetanus vaccination programs, first introduced in the late 1940s, tetanus infection rates have dropped substantially. In fact, according to the World Health Organization, there have only been three cases of neonatal tetanus reported in the U.S. since 2000. In each of these cases, the mothers were incompletely immunized. Unfortunately, throughout the world, tetanus is still common. In 2014, there were over 2,000 cases of neonatal tetanus and over 9,000 cases of non-neonatal tetanus. In comparison, there were 114,000 overall cases reported in 1980.